His policies may be based on the idea of ‘America First’, but could Donald Trump’s plan for a wall along the Mexican border be about to benefit a Yorkshire company? Chris Burn reports.
It is one of the most controversial policies of the man already proving to be one of America’s most controversial presidents, less than a fortnight into the job. Donald Trump has long talked about his desire to build a war along the Mexican border. What no one has said is that this mammoth construction project might just have its foundations in Yorkshire.
The new US President has vowed that work on a wall stretching 1,900 miles between the US and Mexican borders will begin ‘within months’. While the policy - and Trump’s claim he will be able to force Mexico to pay for its creation - is hotly disputed, it may be extremely good news for one county-based company.
Betafence, which describes itself as a world market leader in perimeter security systems, has its only British factory in Sheffield and is also the parent company to Hesco in Leeds, which helps provide security fences to Government agencies and defensive barriers for use in warzones.
Betafence proudly boasts on its website about its work on building security fences on the US-Mexico border, while company bosses indicated prior to the election they were hopeful of gaining more business should Trump win. Sheffield is the last remaining UK site Betafence has after the Belgium firm closed premises in Wigan in 2009.
Barriers already cover around 650 miles of the American-Mexican border but Trump made the creation of a wall running the length of the boundary one of his key campaign pledges. Following his election in November, Trump said some of the ‘wall’ would likely be fencing.
Prior to the US election last year, Aaron Cope, Betafence’s director of sales for North America, admitted the company could gain more business if Trump won. “In North America, we are so far behind in physical security compared with the rest of the world,” he said.
In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s victory in November a company spokesman was slightly more circumspect, telling the Wall Street Journal it was ‘too early’ to comment on what his election would mean for their prospects. “We are a high-security company and we don’t really like to comment on what our business is doing,” he said.
Betafence has not responded to requests from the Yorkshire Post for comment in relation to its potential involvement in the building of the wall or whether it had been in contact with the Trump administration. Hesco says it is ‘unable’ to answer questions about the issues.
Betafence, which employs 1,400 people around the world, has already been involved in building security fences on the US-Mexico border, as well as in Hong Kong and the UAE. A brochure on the Betafence website highlights the firm’s involvement in border security.
It says: “Betafence is positioned as a global provider of high security perimeter fencing solutions. Our experienced project management teams have provided complete border protection solutions for governments around the world, specialising in rugged terrain and long-distance projects.
“Our international offices support border projects and multiple location installations, and specialise in projects in developing regions, along with offering risk assessments and security audits to drive quality and value.”
The brochure adds: “In today’s age of turmoil and global conflict, international borders are becoming increasingly vulnerable to circumvention and even targeted by armed groups. The growing threat of terrorism, smuggling, illegal immigration and random crime have made protecting borders a top priority for most governments.
“At Betafence, our mission is to provide proven solutions to help protect your critical borders. Our hardened perimeter fencing systems control access, and deter, detect, delay and even protect against physical attacks.
“We know a strong perimeter defence is the first and most important step in preparing for the unknown. Our strength lies in our integrated approach to security solutions, and we specialise in high security, wide-area and remote location border protection systems.”
The Wall Street Journal said Arizona senator Steve Smith revealed Betafence has a long-standing interest in the building of a extended physical border with Mexico. Mr Smith said it was among the companies that contacted him after he started campaigning to raise money for such a border back in 2011.
The idea of building the wall was a key part of the campaign that helped sweep Trump to the White House, with enthusiastic crowds across the country repeatedly chanting ‘Build The Wall’ at his rallies. While it is unclear whether Betafence would plan to build parts of it in the UK or at its other international sites, the building project is likely to last years and expected to cost anywhere between $10 to $25bn - providing a major boost to whichever company or companies are involved in the work.
Betafence announced before Christmas it was planning to cut more than 100 jobs at its Sheffield site as part of ‘restructuring plans’ that will see the end of some cable and wire manufacturing processes at the site and investment in automated machines. In the announcement, Christopher Morris, managing director of Betafence’s UK operations, said the company would be focusing ‘all our efforts on the areas of the current UK business which continue to deliver value’ - including ‘perimeter protection’.
“We believe the plans we have announced will position the business in the UK for future growth by ensuring that Betafence remains the manufacturer of choice for our perimeter protection, farming, industrial mesh and residential customers,” he said.
The idea of the wall - and in particular getting Mexico to pay for it - has caused considerable political tension between the new American administration and their southern neighbours. The proposal that the US could impose a 20 per cent tax on Mexican imports to pay for the planned wall was greeted with condemnation by Mexico, who said such a policy would result in more expensive products for American consumers rather than raising the funds Trump needs.
Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said: “A tax on Mexican imports to the United States is not a way to make Mexico pay for the wall, but a way to make the North American consumer pay for it through more expensive avocados, washing machines, televisions.”
He added that paying for Trump’s wall ‘is not negotiable’ for Mexico. But Trump has repeatedly stated his determination that it will be built.
While rows over the policy continues, it appears there is a chance one Yorkshire company will be hoping that ‘Build The Wall’ ends up being a reality rather than a campaign slogan.
Bid to stop ‘surge’ over US border
Donald Trump’s executive order calling for the immediate construction of a wall with Mexico says it is designed to tackle a ‘surge’ of illegal immigration.
The order, signed last week, suggests the wall will help prevent human and drug trafficking, as well as reducing the threat of terrorist attacks in the United States.
It is intended an extra 5,000 border patrol agents will also be hired.
A study published last September by the Pew Research Centre suggested the number of ‘unauthorised immigrants’ from Mexico in the US was 5.8m in 2014 - a fall of around 500,000 since 2009.
Mexicans make up more than half of America’s 11.1m unauthorised immigrants.